Education

Bonds in the bank, Turlock Unified weighs many building needs

Scott Richardson, head of Turlock Unified maintenance operations, points to original air conditioning housed within the attic of the 1951 Turlock High cafeteria, only replaceable by removing the roof, during a tour of the sprawling campus by school board members, including Frank Lima, center, on April 5, 2017, in Turlock, CA.
Scott Richardson, head of Turlock Unified maintenance operations, points to original air conditioning housed within the attic of the 1951 Turlock High cafeteria, only replaceable by removing the roof, during a tour of the sprawling campus by school board members, including Frank Lima, center, on April 5, 2017, in Turlock, CA. naustin@modbee.com

Turlock Unified trustees toured campuses expected to get safety updates and facility upgrades under two school bonds passed in November. No longer just a someday wish list, the vision embraced by voters now faces the practical hurdles of making it happen.

The board has set a top priority of safety. But the expense of protections against school shooters and other once unthinkable dangers could mean not getting to the educational needs voters also sought to address.

Take the Turlock High campus, a century-year-old hodgepodge of historic buildings, vintage classroom wings, a spartan administrative hub and portable trailers. Modern science and engineering labs are a top priority. But so is security fencing – a 1.5 mile proposition for the multiuse property bisected by Berkeley Avenue.

The Bulldogs’ main gym and adjacent cafeteria are 1950s-era Quonset huts. The gym got upgrades over the intervening 60 years. But, trustees heard as they walked Wednesday, the essentially unchanged eatery has structural problems, a wheezing original air conditioning system, and any fixes will require installing a fire sprinkler system.

The existing science wing, unchanged since the 1960s, has an ignored courtyard and an observatory with no telescope. Its odd-shaped rooms fit like puzzle pieces around a small labyrinth of interior passageways and tiny storage rooms. Some science offerings have moved across Berkeley, repurposing the sinks where girls once washed dishes during home economics classes.

The school includes the only stadium in town, but no parking beside it, and hoofing between classes often takes longer than the seven-minute passing period.

Ideally, trustee Frank Lima noted, all these disparate needs would be considered as part of a broad look at how the sprawling Turlock High campus functions.

“The site design teams, the architect and the administration will be taking the very best approach to planning the work that needs to be completed on the Turlock High School campus,” affirmed Mike Trainor, assistant superintendent of business services, in a later email.

THS will share with Pitman High the $48 million in school bonds authorized by Measure O. The first bond sale banked less than a third of that, adding a now and later component to school decisions.

Pitman High, built in 1997, has the good looks and grand plan its sister campus lacks. But the older campus can boast sports facilities and industrial-grade facilities for career-focused classes. Such facilities were cut from a trimmed Pitman High construction budget after voters refused to pass the original school bond. The more frugal build also did without air conditioning for its main classroom building, a serious problem now that the school year starts mid-August.

“The HVAC system in the B building continues to be a focus for the district,” Trainor said. But sports are also competing for funds.

“For quite some time now, the administration has been exploring ways in which we might be able to improve the outdoor facilities for students of physical education classes. That said, our focus for modernization will not be focused on a stadium, however, modernization funds could very well contribute to the improvement of the track and field area – an improved area for both athletes and physical education students,” his email said.

Elementary schools will share $40.8 million approved by voters in Measure N, also being spent in phases.

The Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy, a dual-language school of choice so popular that this year its sixth grade classes moved to Dutcher Middle School and a second dual-language program started at Wakefield Elementary. The changes brought the Osborn campus – one of Turlock’s oldest – below 1,000 students again, but traffic and parking problems remain among the worst of all the district’s schools.

“With every project, it is our approach to thoroughly examine all aspects of the campus, along with potential needs for the future,” Trainor said.

Each school will have a design team, including interested teachers, working on the priorities and timing. The first bond-paid projects will begin this summer with perimeter fencing going up around Medeiros, Earl, Walnut and Brown elementary schools, Trainor said. Cameras and other safety features will be part of more detailed discussions to come.

Work planned before Measure N passed will also be visible at Wakefield Elementary, including building a Head Start play area, and replacing five portable classrooms over the summer.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

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